A Half-Year in Hell with a Xtian Family
My Half-Year of Hell With Christian Fundamentalists
When Polish student Michael Gromek, 19, went to America on a student
exchange, he found himself trapped in a host family of Christian
fundamentalists. What followed was a six-month hell of dawn church
visits and sex education talks as his new family tried to banish the
devil from his soul. Here's his story.
'Possessed by the devil': Exchange student Michel Gromek, 19.
Editor's Note: The following story first appeared in SchoolSpiegel, a
SPIEGEL ONLINE Web site that solicits original contributions from school
kids about their experiences. The site also features first-hand accounts
of foreign exchange students.
"When I got out of the plane in Greensboro in the US state of North
Carolina, I would never have expected my host family to welcome me at
the airport, wielding a Bible, and saying, 'Child, our Lord sent you
half-way around the world to bring you to us.' At that moment I just
wanted to turn round and run back to the plane.
Things began to go wrong as soon as I arrived in my new home in
Winston-Salem, where I was to spend my year abroad. For example, every
Monday my host family would gather around the kitchen table to talk
about sex. My host parents hadn't had sex for the last 17 years because
-- so they told me -- they were devoting their lives to God. They also
wanted to know whether I drank alcohol. I admitted that I liked beer and
wine. They told me I had the devil in my heart.
My host parents treated me like a five-year-old. They gave me lollipops.
They woke me every Sunday morning at 6:15 a.m., saying 'Michael, it's
time to go to church.' I hated that sentence. When I didn't want to go
to church one morning, because I had hardly slept, they didn't allow me
to have any coffee.
One day I was talking to my host parents about my mother, who is
separated from my father. They were appalled -- my mother's heart was
just as possessed by the devil as mine, they exclaimed. God wanted her
to stay with her husband, they said.
Then, seeing as we were already on the topic of God's will, the
religious zealots finally brought up a subject which had clearly been on
their minds for a long time: They wanted me to help them set up a
Fundamentalist Baptist church in my home country of Poland. It was God's
will, they said. They tried to slip the topic casually into
conversation, but it really shocked me -- I realized that was the only
reason they had welcomed me into their family. They had already started
construction work in Krakow -- I was to help them with translations and
with spreading their faith via the media.
It was clear to me that there was no way I was going to do that. The
family was appalled. It was a weird situation. After all, these people
were my only company at the time. If I hadn't kept in touch with home
through e-mail, I might have been sucked into that world.
It was only after four months that I decided to change my host family. I
had kept hoping that things might improve, but it was futile. Telling
them that I wanted to go was the most unpleasant moment I experienced in
that half year. Of course they didn't understand -- how could they? They
had grown up with their faith and were convinced of it, and then
suddenly I turned up and refused to fit in.
From that moment on, I counted the days. The two months that followed
my decision were hell. My host parents detested me. There were constant
rows. I could sense that they just wanted to get rid of me. They didn't
know what to do with me any more.
67 days later, I was finally in a new family. They were young, actually
more friends than host parents, and I was very happy there. Because my
new family was only 50 kilometers away from the other one, I was
distrustful at first and afraid that things wouldn't be any better. But
the change was worth it.
Despite everything, I still haven't come to terms with my experience. I
want to write to the religious family soon and explain to them, clearly
and calmly, why things went so wrong. It shouldn't just end this way."
Adapted from an interview conducted by Magdalena Blender